Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

29 June 2006

Skrull Kill Krew

Collects: Skrull Kill Krew #1-5 (1995)

Released: June 2006 (Marvel)

Skrull Kill Krew was a five-issue series published by Marvel in 1995. Whether it was a limited series or an ongoing series canceled quickly, I can’t be sure; the former is more likely.

In any event, Skrull Kill Krew has a simple premise. The U.S. government has been feeding the American people hamburgers tainted with Skrull meat. Yes, they ground the flesh of sentient beings and put it in random meat products to see what effect it would have on people. Some were immune; some died quickly. But some gained not only shapeshifting powers and the ability to detect shapeshifting Skrulls but progressive insanity and seizures.

What the government hoped to get out of this, writers Mark Millar and Grant Morrison don’t tell us. But a mystery man named Ryder gets some of the infected people together for a Skrull-killing party, and Marvel put the results in a “Marvel Edge” book, sort of an unsuccessful forerunner to Marvel Knights.

There are many positives in this book. The gleeful mayhem has a great deal of energy that carries the story (such as it is) along. There are great character designs by artist Steve Yeowell, especially English racist Moonstomp (with his hammer, Nobbler) and Riot, a “punk” teenager. There are great visuals throughout, including the cover to issue 1, which became the cover for the TPB.

On the other hand, there is a distressing repetitiveness to the plots: find the Skrulls, kill the Skrulls, repeat. There are stories that Millar and Morrison knocked out the idea while in a pub one night and wrote most of the stories while drunk. I don’t necessarily believe that, but there is a lack of depth here that fans of Morrison will miss. Both writers will do better things.

The weird thing is, as off the wall and bizarre as the concept is, it works better when it touches on the Marvel Universe. The story starts with Fantastic Four #2, when Reed Richards forces defeated Skrulls to take the form of cows, then hypnotizes them into believing they are cows. The idea for the series is itself a variant on Fantastic Four Annual #17, in which the milk from the Skrull cows causes residents of a small town to take on Skrull characteristics. (The Fantastic Four stop that evil.)

The most effective stories are #2 and 3, in which the Krew works with Captain America to foil Baron Strucker and Hydra’s attempt to take over a Baltic state. The Krew is there mainly by accident, wanting only to kill Skrulls — Moonstomp actually sympathizes with the Nazis — and recruit a new member. Captain America is a bit too sweet and perfect, giving you an idea of Millar and Morrison’s view on his character. The writers some very good lines, including Baron Strucker, a Nazi, calling Dr. Doom a “neo-liberal”. The situation gives you a good sense of how amoral the Krew’s mayhem is; they’ll kill non-Skrulls and work with Nazis if it helps their cause.

Morrison has commented that Skrull Kill Krew is under development for television. I can’t believe that, or rather, I can’t believe anyone’s going to follow through on that. And I can’t decide whether that’s good — even though I’m pretty sure it would be a car wreck of a TV program.

Grade: B-. Ultimately, not enough depth, but some manic fun.

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13 June 2006

New Thunderbolts, v. 3: Right of Power

Collects: New Thunderbolts #13-18, Thunderbolts (v. 2) #100 (2005-6)

Released: May 2006 (Marvel)

There was a time, long ago, when Thunderbolts had a plotline you could follow without a set of Cliff Notes and a vodka tonic. I’m not sure when that time was, or when it passed, but I know it existed and doesn’t any more.

Certainly it passed before the title was relaunched as New Thunderbolts. There’s nothing wrong with the new name — well, except the original Thunderbolts weren’t too old, and every book seems to have a “New” in front of it these days — but writer Fabian Nicieza evidently decided that intricate plotting was the secret of success and hied down that road.

It’s … I don’t want to call it “sprawling,” because the next word after that is “epic,” and that’s not right at all. It’s filled with many flailing plots that refuse to come together and instead jut out of the main body of the plot like arrows out of a practice target. But there’s a lot going on in this trade, and there’s little to indicate any of these plotlines are being wrapped up.

The Commission for Superhuman Activities asks the Thunderbolts to humiliate the Avengers, which they do. Then the team has a fight with the new Squadron Sinister, reformed by the Grandmaster. Then there’s the final three issues, which does put an end to Captain Marvel / Photon’s mental problems but leaves other danglers: What will the new Swordsman do? What’s Zemo playing at? And is he playing his new girl? What’s up with Moonstone? What will Speed Demon do now? Will the Thunderbolts’ new member remain?

Plot fodder for future issues, you say? Well, maybe. But two things occur to me:

1) We went down this road with Chris Claremont on Uncanny X-Men, where he spun off new ideas like crazy without ever resolving them. Nicieza has been good about resolving his stories in the past, but you never know …

2) There is a sense that this title is tossed about by the whims of editorial. The Swordsman is a reminder of the crossover with Wolverine that ran straight through the middle of v. 1. “House of M” marred v. 2. Here, the status quo of New Avengers makes up the first third of the story, and Carol Danvers resigns from the Commission on Superhuman Activities — off panel — so that she can have her own series.

Nicieza, aided by artists Tom Grummett and Rick Leonardi, may be doing its best, but this is a very densely plotted series, fully of revelations, double crosses, and scheming Nazis. The title itself seems in very real danger of flying apart when the next crossover comes flying through. Like, oh, say, Civil War …

Grade: C+

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